The key distinguishing characteristic of self-publishing is that the author has decided to publish his or her work independent of a publishing house. In 2008, for the first time in history, more books were self-published than those published traditionally. In 2009, 76% of all books released were self-published, while publishing houses reduced the number of books they produced. According to Robert Kroese, “the average return of the self-published book is £500”.
The emergence of digital print and print on demand, with its small print runs, has arguably given creative designers much more control over the design and publishing process. Similar to the rise of fanzines in the 1970s punk era, independent book publication in the twenty- first century serves as a countercultural response to the aesthetics and associations of mass commercial book production.
The term ‘vanity publishing’ originated at a time when the only way for an author to get a book published was to sign a contract with a publishing company. Reputable publishing companies generally paid authors a percentage of sales, so it was in the company’s interest to sign only authors whose books would sell well. It was extremely difficult for the typical unknown author to get a publishing contract under these circumstances, and many ‘vanity publishers’ sprang up to give these authors an alternative: essentially, they would publish any book in exchange for payment up front from the author. The term “vanity publishing” arose from the common perception that the authors who paid for such services were motivated by an exaggerated sense of their own talent.
Vanity publishing differs from self-publishing in that the author does not own the print run of finished books and is not in primary control of their distribution.
The line between vanity publishing and traditional publishing has, however, become increasingly blurred in the past few years. Currently there are several companies that offer digital and/or print publication with no up front cost. However, most of these companies also offer add-on services such as editing, marketing and cover design. Self-publishing companies that fit this model include CreateSpace (owned by Amazon.com), iUniverse, and Lulu. An author who simply hands his or her book over to one of these companies, expecting the company to make it a bestseller, would meet the previously established definition of vanity publishing, but it’s unclear how many authors fit this description. Further blurring the distinction between self-publishing and traditional publishing was Penguin’s purchase in 2012 of Author Solutions.
Increasingly, then, vanity publishing is being defined as a behavior rather than a set characteristic of certain companies or individuals, although there remain a handful of companies that clearly qualify as vanity publishers. These are companies that offer the cachet of being published and make the majority of their income on fees for intangible services paid for by the author, rather than sales revenue. These companies are also known as joint venture or subsidy presses.
Print on Demand
Wikipedia article: Print-On-Demand
Print-On-Demand (POD) publishing refers to the ability to print high-quality books as needed. Online retailing, wherein dominant players like Amazon.com have enticed readers away from bookstores into an online environment. Print-On-Demand (POD) technology which can produce a quality product equal to those produced by traditional publishers – in the past, you could easily identify a self-published title because of its quality.
For self-published books, this is often a more economical option than conducting a print run of hundreds or thousands of books. Many companies, such as Createspace (owned by Amazon.com), Lulu and iUniverse allow printing single books at per-book costs not much higher than those paid by publishing companies for large print runs. Most POD companies also offer distribution through Amazon.com and other online and brick-and-mortar retailers, most often as “special order” or “web-only” as retail outlets are usually unwilling to stock physical books that cannot be returned if they do not sell.
Electronic (E-book) Publishing
Technological advances with e-book readers and tablet computers that enhance readability and allow readers to “carry” numerous books in a concise, portable product.
There are a variety of E-book formats and tools that can be used to create them. The most popular formats are epub, .mobi, PDF, HTML, and Amazon’s .azw format. Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords all offer online tools for creating and converting files from other formats to formats that can be sold on their websites. Because it is possible to create E-books with no up-front or per-book costs, E-book publishing is an extremely popular option for self-publishers. Some recent bestsellers, such as Hugh Howey’s Wool series, began as digital-only books.
Copyrights and risk
Self-publishing and vanity publishing are not necessarily the same business model. A self-published author employs a printer (publishing) to operate a press, but retains ownership of copyrights, ISBN’s, the finished books and their distribution. A vanity press or subsidy publisher retains some of the rights,usually including ownership of the print run and control over distribution, while the author bears much or all of the financial risk.
Both models share a common characteristic of shifting risk and primary editorial control to the author; both encounter the same issues of lax editorial control. This differs from the conventional model (royalty publishing) in which a publisher pays an author an advance to create content, then assumes full control of the project and any commercial risk if a tome sells poorly. Also excluded is sponsored publishing, where a company pays an author to write a book on its behalf (for instance, a food manufacturer marketing a cookbook written by outsiders or a hobby materials supplier publishing a book of blueprints).
Unless a book is to be sold directly from the author to the public, an ISBN number is required to uniquely identify the title. ISBN is a global standard used for all titles worldwide. Most self-publishing companies either provide their own ISBN to a title or can provide direction; it may be in the best interest of the self-published author to retain ownership of ISBN and copyright instead of using a number owned by a vanity press.
List of self-publishing companies
The following is a Wikipedia list of some of the notable companies that provide assistance in self-publishing books, provide print on demand services as publishers or operate as vanity presses.
Books LLC controversial American publisher and a book sales club based in Memphis, Tennessee. Books LLC publishes print on demand paperback and downloadable compilations of English texts and documents from open knowledge sources such as Wikipedia. Books LLC’s copies of the English Wikipedia are republished by Google Books. Titles are also published in French and German respectively under the names “Livres Groupe” and “Bücher Gruppe“. Books’ publications do not include the images from the original Web documents but, in their place, URLs pointing to the Web images.
Famous Poets Society
Kobo Writing Life
Poetry.com (also known as the International Library of Poetry)
Tate Publishing & Enterprises
Publishers Weekly (4 April 2010). “Self-Published Titles Topped 764,000 in 2009 as Traditional Output Dipped”. Retrieved 31 October 2011.
Robert Kroese. Self-Publish Your Novel: Lessons from an Indie Publishing Success Story.
RICH, MOTOKO (28 February 2010). “Math of Publishing Meets the E-Book”. New York Times. Retrieved 9 May 2013.
Rosenthal, Morris. “Print on Demand Publishing”. Retrieved 9 May 2013.
Neuburger, Jeffrey D. (10 September 2008). “Court Rules Print-on-Demand Service Not Liable for Defamation”. Retrieved 31 October 2011.
Greenfield, Jeremy (19 July 2012). “Penguin Buys Self-Publishing Platform Author Solutions for $116 Million”.
Christina Patterson (18 August 2012). “How the great writers published themselves”. The Independent (London). Retrieved 17 August 2012.
Paull, John (2011). “The making of an agricultural classic: Farmers of Forty Centuries or Permanent Agriculture in China, Korea and Japan, 1911–2011”. Agricultural Sciences 2 (3): 175–180. doi:10.4236/as.2011.23024.
“How To Self-Publish A Bestseller: Publishing 3.0”.
The Guardian (27 March 2012). “Pottermore conjures Harry Potter ebooks”. London. Retrieved 9 August 2012.
Brown, Helen (2010-01-08). “Unleash your inner novelist”. The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved September 16, 2011. “Polly Courtney […] made money self-publishing her novel, Golden Handcuffs, in 2006. […] Courtney now has a three-book deal with HarperCollins […]”
Saichek, Wiley (September 2003). “Christopher Paolini interview”. Teenreads.com. Retrieved 2009-01-31.
Lane, Frederick S. (2006). The Decency Wars: The Campaign to Cleanse American Culture. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. p. 99. ISBN 1-59102-427-7.
Rich, Motoko (2008-06-24). “Christian Novel Is Surprise Best Seller”. The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-24.
Self-publishing at DMOZ
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List of self-publishing companies
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American Biographical Institute
Mark Levine. The Fine Print of Self-Publishing. Retrieved 2014-07-13.
April Hamilton. The Indie Author Guide: Self-Publishing Strategies Anyone Can Use. Retrieved 2014-07-13.
Irina Webster, William Webster. How to Become a Successful Author:: 34 Steps to Self-Publishing. Australian Self-publishing Group. Retrieved 2014-07-13.
Dan Poynter, Danny O. Snow. U-Publish.com 4.0: A ‘Living Book’ to Help You Compete With the Giants. Unlimited Publishing LLC, Dan Poynter, Danny O. Snow. Retrieved 2014-07-13.
Marilyn M. Moore (2012-06-17). The Self-Published Cook: How to Write, Publish, and Sell Your Own Cookbook. Retrieved 2014-07-13.
“Self-Published Titles Topped 764,000 in 2009 as Traditional Output Dipped”. Publishersweekly.com. 2010-04-14. Retrieved 2012-04-23.
Sterlicchi, John (2008-02-20). “Self-publish boom challenging old order”. The Guardian (London).
“The 101 most useful websites”. London: Telegraph. 2009-11-12.
Rosen, Mike (2009-03-02). “MediaShift . 5 Great Services for Self-Publishing Your Book”. PBS. Retrieved 2012-04-23.
“Greyden Press”. Dayton, OH. 2014-10-06.
Biswas, Venkata Sausmita (2012-02-12). “Publishing for dummies”. The New Indian Express (Chennai).
Torpey, Jodi (2007-07-15). “Outskirts Press brings unpublished writers into the mainstream”.
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Digital print on demand, although perhaps limited in terms of production values when compared to traditional lithographic printing, can be cost-effective when working with small batches or ‘one-off’ books and this process can be exploited by small independent publishers. In addition, artists and designers are rediscovering the craft and skills inherent in traditional printing processes such as letterpress and returning to a more physical relationship and contact with print, using materials and processes of the pre-digital age, such as photocopying and hand- binding. In the twenty-first century a new generation of designers can ‘take back the power’, once the preserve of the large publishing companies, and enjoy a creative independence in the design and printing of books. This approach recalls the era of early English small presses, where the author/artist expressed their vision through the craftsmanship inherent in book design, and enjoyed ownership of the design and production process as a whole.Self publishing provides an outlet for illustrators to retain full creative freedom through authoring their own work, both visual and/or written. This is an area that I have researched in-depth to create books printed by Blurb for my Book Design and Landscape Photography courses. See my blogs:
- Book Design: posts on Fanzines, publishing models, self-publishing and my Blub book: A to Z from Armageddon
- Landscape Photography: Photobooks Design and Publishing, Blurb books printed as part of Assignment: Perspectives on Kyrgyzstan and Bench
Fanzines are magazines for fans. Many illustrators have contributed to fanzines as well as used this format to present their own ideas and examples of work. Fanzines existed in one form or other since the 1930s but really became widespread as the punk subcultural DIY response to mainstream print.era. ‘Fanzine’ was abbreviated to ‘zine’ in 1970s.
- Readership were super-niche interest groups and cultural underground. They were part of
- Distribution: small quantities on an irregular basis distributed by hand and word of mouth or via independent music or book stores or through zine fairs and symposia. Different titles would spring up for a few editions then disappear.
- Format: usually small A5-A6 to easily fit in the hand, but sometimes oversized broadsheets.
- Production: Created by a single producer as both author and designer – no censorship or corporate strategy.
- Subject matter political, humorous, poetic, underground music not necessarily represented in more conventional print.
- Style Lively Do it yourself style uninhibited by design conventions. Often chaotically lively layout.
- Cheap and designed to be ephemeral : some were commercially printed but many were printed using photocopiers, stencil and other ‘hands-on’ processes. Sometimes they were more 3-dimensional and incorporated recycled objects or materials.
- Materials different coloured papers, crayons, felt-tip markers, Ribbons, stickers. Collages photos hand-drawn illustrations. often made with very basic tools: scissors, glue.
- Typography handwritten or typewritten or using rub-down lettering.
“Doing a fanzine in the Noughties is all about the process of making it, and having that direct impact on an individual, who will (hopefully) cherish the object you’ve lavished effort on.”
Mainstream comics are either printed in their own right or live within larger publications and newspapers. See discussion of comics and graphic novels from Part 3 of this course:
But many comic artists tarted out by self-publishing.
- Robert Crumb developed his comics through underground publications as part of the 1960s counterculture.
- Viz, the British high street adult comic, started life in a bedroom in Newcastle upon Tyne, produced by brothers Chris and Simon Donald with friend Jim Brownlow. This low risk approach meant that Viz was able to find an audience before it began to grow as a commercial enterprise.
- Gary Panter Illustrator and artist from the early punk scene in America. He produced his own comics before rising to prominence illustrating record sleeves.
Artists’ books are well-made, limited edition publications that are usually based on one thematic idea and are presented as pieces of art in their own right. Unlike fanzines and comics, artist’s books place more emphasis on the form of the book, either in terms of the book’s format and how it relates to the content or simply through the quality of the materials used. Artists’ books can be printed and hand-bound or be completely hand-made.
See Johanna Drucker The Century of Artists Books 2004
Developments in on-line publishing potentially offer illustrators new and cheaper ways to publish and present their work tailored to specific audiences. This means there’s less of an imperative to compromise and it’s easier to take risks. There are a number of ways in which illustrators can use on-line publishing:
- portfolios within the content of websites – setting up one’s own e-commerce sites through sites like SMUGMUG (see my own photography and art website http://www.zemnimages.com that I intend to develop as a professional site) and promotion of images. There are also many on-line networks like Behance, Pinterest and artist e-commerce sites like Etsy and others.
- self-contained downloadable content presented as pdfs (downloadable documents which can be read using a variety of technology) or as interactive content on websites using software like Adobe InDesign’s interactive features. An issue here is keeping up-to-date with interactive formats that can be cross-platform as formats are continually shifting (something I need to update my research on) and both sizes and file types differ between for example Kindle, Apple and Amazon.
- on-line publishing by Blurb, Apple and Amazon and others where users upload their book content and viewers can access it freely on-line or pay for a one-off paper copy to be printed and posted to them. Here the publisher takes care of the formatting from pdf and generally offers a number of options.
However the roles for illustrators in traditional book publishing like book covers, magazine articles and other forms of editorial illustration may decline as digital bookshops function through search engines and tagged words rather than through visually eye-catching material.
Thinking about self-publishing
Self-publishing your ideas can take many forms. Self-publishing content doesn’t have to be a great opus, nor does it have to compete at the
highest level. Some of the most entertaining examples of self-published work are based on very simple ideas, such as Mark Pawson’s ‘Die-Cut Plug Wiring Diagram Book’.
Some of my conclusions and issues for further work
Some of conclusions so far from self-publishing projects in other courses are that although self-publishing offers creative freedom, as well as a very good creative product it requires:
- a very sound knowledge of the market: – how much different intended readerships might be prepared to pay for different types of product from cheap small publications to larger glossy ones, the competition from others with similar ideas, and advertising and promotion outlets
- printing processes: types of paper, colour ranges, formats etc. Although my conclusion was that Blurb was the most cost-effective for the UK if a certain volume was produced and I could take advantage of the frequent cut cost offers, it would still be difficult to make things viable.
TO DO: Do some research into self-published comics, graphic novels, artist books or fanzines. Visit your local bookstore or find examples online. Find examples of self-publishing you find interesting or entertaining. Think about the form of this work. How has it been produced and what materials are used? Can you find examples of inventive use of paper, binding, folding or printing?
As a starting point you may want to access artists’ books in the V&A collection: www.vam.ac.uk/users/album/15001